Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a bacterial disease that can cause skin lesions, disfiguration, damage to the nerves and eyes, and other problems.
Fortunately, the disease is treatable with medication. If treated properly, those with leprosy can live normal lives and recover from the disease.
Seek care as soon as possible. Leprosy is treatable with medication, and most patients can continue their lives normally if they are treated. The disease is only mildly contagious when it is untreated, and once you are taking the medication, you are no longer contagious to others.
However, if leprosy is left untreated it can cause severe problems with the limbs (hands and feet), eyes, skin, and nerves.
Take care not to spread the disease to others.
Hansen’s disease is moderately contagious when untreated. It can spread to others by air, such as when you sneeze or cough.
Remember to cover your face when you cough or sneeze to prevent airborne droplets from spreading the disease to others until you can see a doctor and begin treatment.
Have your doctor determine the form of leprosy you have.
Sometimes leprosy manifests only as a skin lesions, and sometimes it takes more severe forms. The particular treatment plan you follow will depend on the form of leprosy you have.
Your doctor can diagnose this.
Leprosy can be diagnosed as paucibacillary or multibacillary (which is more severe).
A case of leprosy is also classified as either tuberculoid or lepromatous (more severe, causing large lumps and nodules on the skin).
Take a multiple drug treatment (MDT) provided by your doctor.
A number of antibiotics (usually a combination of dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine) are prescribed to treat leprosy. These drugs kill the bacteria that causes the disease (Mycobacterium leprae) and cure people infected by it. Your doctor will prescribe medications to take based on your particular case of leprosy.
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides the MDT free to patients around the world through the Ministry of Health. In the United States medication for leprosy is provided by the National Hansen’s Disease Program.
Once you start taking the medications, you can no longer spread the disease to others. You do not have to be quarantined.
Daily and/or monthly doses of dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine may be prescribed for 24 months in many cases of leprosy.
If leprosy only shows as a skin lesion, patients may be recommended to take the medication treatment for six months.
In the United States, multibacillary cases may be treated for one year and paucibacillary cases for two years.
If leprosy only manifests as a single skin lesion, the patient may be able to treat it with just a single dose of dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine.
Multibacillary cases may require multiple treatments to cure.
Drug resistance to these medications is rare.
Side effects of these drugs are generally mild. Talk to your physician if you have questions.
Managing Symptoms and Recovery
Take your antibiotics.
Continue to take the antibiotics your doctor prescribes you, according to the directions you have been given. If you do not take the antibiotics as directed, you could become sick again.
Monitor your progress for any side effects or complications.
If you notice changes in your condition, experience pain, etc., then talk to your doctor. In particular, leprosy patients are susceptible to certain complications:
Neuritis, silent neuropathies (nerve damage without pain), pain, burning, tingling, and sudden numbness may occur. This can be treated with corticosteroids. If left untreated, it can cause permanent injury and loss of function
Iridocyclitis, or inflammation of the iris of the eye can also occur. If does, you will need to see an eye specialist right away. It can be treated with special drops, but permanent damage can result if it is left untreated.
Orchitis, or inflammation of a testis can also occur. It can be treated with corticosteroids, but let your doctor know immediately if you notice this symptom, as sterility can result.
Ulcers on the foot can result from leprosy. You doctor can develop a treatment plan to reduce this problem using splints, special footwear, and dressing of the wounds.
The nerve damage and skin problems associated with leprosy can cause disfiguration and loss of function in the hands and feet. Plans to prevent and/or manage these symptoms, specific to your case, can be provided by your physician.
Take care to prevent injuries.
Leprosy can cause numbness. If this happens, you might not notice when the numb area is in pain, and you might harm the area without realizing it. Be extra cautious to avoid injuries like burns and cuts on these affected areas.
Wearing gloves or special footwear can protect you if you have numbness in your extremities.
Continue to see your physician.
Keep track of your progress as you recover, and note any symptoms you have. Continue to see your doctor for monitoring, and be sure to ask any questions you may have